Written by Vera Coetsee, Health and Nutrition Coach
5 January 2023
Identifying food sensitivities can make a big impact on your health and wellness. Many people feel unwell for years without knowing that they are sensitive to a certain food group. Food sensitivities affect millions of people worldwide, and they are very difficult to identify since symptoms can be delayed up to 72 hours after eating a certain food group. Food sensitivities can cause inflammation in the gut, which can deplete and exhaust our digestive system and make us feel unwell. So if you have been struggling with the symptoms listed in this article, you may benefit from identifying and eliminating your sensitivities. When we take away inflammatory foods and feed our bodies with whole anti-inflammatory foods, we have the power to regain our health.
Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between a food allergy, a food sensitivity and food intolerance. Food allergies cause severe symptoms immediately after a food is eaten. An allergic response will result in the immune system identifying the food as foreign and will cause allergic symptoms. Food sensitivities are usually the result of an imbalance in the digestive system that affects the immune system. Often, food sensitivities cause delayed symptoms that are difficult to interpret. Food intolerances are reactions to certain food chemicals when a person is lacking an enzyme or nutrient needed to break down that chemical. This results in the body being unable to properly process certain foods.
The most common symptoms of food sensitivities and intolerance include stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, bloating, headaches or migraines, heartburn, nausea, runny or stuffy nose, eczema, fatigue, lack of concentration, joint pain or an upset stomach. The most common food sensitivities include lactose, histamine and gluten. Lactose refers to individuals who are sensitive to dairy products. Being lactose intolerant means that your body doesn’t make enough lactase enzyme to break down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Histamine refers to individuals who cannot tolerate histamine, which is a naturally occurring chemical found in cheese, pineapples, chocolate, citrus, avocados, beer, red wine and fermented foods. People who are histamine intolerant don’t make enough diamine oxidase enzyme to break down this chemical. Lastly, gluten refers to individuals who are sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
When you seek out help for food sensitivities, you will most likely get prescribed steroids, antihistamine and decongestants. Although these can all provide symptomatic relief, they do little to address the underlying issue of immune imbalances. It is, therefore, important to work with a functional medicine practitioner to understand the root cause of your sensitivities. Known food allergens should always be avoided, especially if your reactions are severe. However, food sensitivities or intolerances may be helped by natural remedies. Steps you can take to help you find relief include:
Food Sensitivity Test
Running a food sensitivity test can be very helpful since it can eliminate the guesswork and pinpoint which food groups to avoid. At Restore Integrative Medical Clinic, we use a test that measures both IgG and immune complexes, the most common food-related pathways in the body. This test will be able to help identify food sensitivities of over a 100 different foods, colourings and additives spanning most major food groups, inflammation and the presence of leaky gut. Leaky gut refers to the increased permeability of the small intestine, which allows food components to pass through the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream, leading to food sensitivities.
Following an elimination diet can be very helpful to understand how certain foods affect your body, but it takes a bit more effort and time to complete. During an elimination diet you remove common food triggers from your diet for a set period. After an elimination period, foods are reintroduced back, one food at a time, to observe whether those foods cause symptoms. Foods that continue to cause symptoms are avoided and reintroduced again after a longer period. Once the body has healed, some foods which initially caused symptoms may be tolerated and added back into the diet. This diet is a short-term food plan. Healing the gut and being able to eat a wide variety of whole foods are the ultimate goals of an elimination diet.
Restore the Gut
Research has shown that food sensitivities may be linked to imbalances in our gut microbiome, which is the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live in our intestines. In fact, 80% of our immune system is clustered around the digestive tract, which means our gut health definitely has an impact on our sensitivities. Our immune system constantly monitors the food that passes through our digestive system, and the way the immune system responds is impacted by the bacteria in our gut. If our gut is inflamed, our bacteria becomes unhealthy which can lead to unwanted symptoms. Eliminating foods that cause inflammation and adding essential nutrients to our diet allows the gut and the immune system to heal. A healthy gut microbiome can be rebuilt by eating healthy whole foods including protein, phytonutrients, fibre and fermented foods.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this article or think that you might have a food sensitivity, make an appointment with our functional medicine Doctor to determine the root cause of your symptoms.